Cast: F. Murray Abraham (Antonio Salieri), Tom Hulce (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), Elizabeth Berridge (Constanze Mozart), Roy Dotrice (Leopold Mozart), Simon Callow (Emanuel Schikaneder), Christine Ebersole (Caterina Cavalieri), Jeffrey Jones (Emperor Joseph II)
Director: Milos Forman
My rating: 7.5 / 10
The movie starts with an elderly Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) attempting to take his own life. Later in a sanatorium he confesses to the murder of his former colleague, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) to a priest and begins to recount his life’s story.
In Salieri’s youth he desired to be a composer, much to the chagrin of his father. He prays to God that, if he will make Salieri a famous composer, he will in return promise his faithfulness. Soon after, his father dies, which Salieri takes as a sign that God has accepted his vow. He is educated in Vienna and becomes court composer to Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones).
Mozart arrives in Vienna to perform at the request of his employer, the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. Salieri attends the performance to meet Mozart and, despite Mozart’s obscenity and immaturity, finds his talent to be transcendent.
The Emperor desires to commission Mozart to write an opera and, despite the reservations of his advisers, summons him to the palace. Mozart happily accepts the job, much to the annoyance of Salieri. Mozart premieres Die Entführung aus dem Serail to mixed reviews from the Emperor. Salieri believes that Mozart has slept with the star, Caterina Cavalieri (Christine Ebersole) a pupil of Salieri’s who he likes, despite Mozart’s engagement to Constanze Weber (Elizabeth Berridge). Salieri is furious and begins to secretly plot Mozart’s downfall.
The Emperor desires that Mozart instruct his niece, Princess Elisabeth, in music, but Salieri discourages him from doing so. Constanze visits Salieri to persuade him to make the Emperor reconsider, but she is unsuccessful despite later returning, as Salieri requested, to sleep with him but which he rejects.
Mozart, meanwhile, struggles to find work teaching as patron’s don’t trust him with their wives or daughters, and begins drinking. His father, Leopold Mozart, comes to visit him in Vienna. Constanze and Mozart take Leopold to a masked party (which Salieri also attends), where Mozart entertains the guests with musical antics. Leopold disapproves of his son’s hedonism, and the family argues until Leopold leaves town.
Salieri hires a young girl to pose as the Mozarts’ maid while spying for him. She takes him to the Mozart residence, where he discovers that Mozart is working on an opera based on the play The Marriage of Figaro, which the Emperor has forbidden. When Mozart is summoned to court to explain, he manages to convince the Emperor to allow his opera to premiere, despite Salieri and the advisers’ attempt to sabotage it.
Messengers arrive in Vienna with news of Leopold’s death, and in response a grief-stricken Mozart pens Don Giovanni. Salieri recognizes the dead commander as symbolic of Leopold and hatches a plan. Wearing Leopold’s party mask, Salieri visits Mozart and commissions a Requiem Mass. Salieri plots to kill Mozart once the piece is finished, then premiere it at Mozart’s funeral, claiming the work as his own.
At a parody of one of Mozart’s own operas, Emanuel Schikaneder asks Mozart to write an opera for his theatre. Mozart, desperate for money, obliges, despite his wife’s insistence that he finish the Requiem Mass. The couple fight and Constanze leaves with their young son, Karl.
Mozart collapses during a performance of his finished work, The Magic Flute. Salieri takes him home and offers his assistance on the Requiem. Salieri transcribes Mozart’s verbal direction, and they work through the night. The next morning, a gravely ill Mozart apologizes to Salieri for his previous behaviour. A guilty Constanze returns home and locks the unfinished Requiem away, only to find that Mozart has died from overwork. Mozart is taken out of the city and unceremoniously buried in a mass grave during a rainstorm.
Having finished his tale, Salieri asks how a merciful God could allow this to happen. As he is pushed down the hall of the sanatorium in a wheelchair, Salieri declares himself “the patron saint of mediocrities” and mockingly absolves the other patients of their inadequacies. Mozart’s high-pitched laugh is heard as the screen fades to black.
What’s to Like
The music, the costumes, the acting.
What’s not to Like
A movie about devious intent and plotting against someone while appearing to be their friend, unusually the individual with the cruel intentions succeeds and only has his conscience to later deal with. Whilst Amadeus Mozart is a genius I struggled to get behind or truly understand him. Mozart is portrayed as a deeply flawed drunk who to a fair degree wastes his talent and whilst you have sympathy for the plot against him by Antonio Salieri it’s only possible to take this advantage due to Mozart’s off putting behaviour leaving him with few to no allies.
While the acting is outstanding the real star is the music and the costumes that take you into this timeframe. And the fictionalised biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is still very engaging. This is the type of movie film critics love and while enjoyable and worth watching I found it overhyped.
- Best Picture – Winner
- Best Actor in a Leading Role (F. Murray Abraham) – Winner
- Best Director (Milos Forman) – Winner
- Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium – Winner
- Best Art Direction-Set Decoration – Winner
- Best Costume Design – Winner
- Best Sound – Winner
- Best Makeup – Winner
- Best Actor in a Leading Role (Tom Hulce) – nominee
- Best Cinematography – nominee
- Best Film Editing – nominee